I suppose, after 2,500 years, there’s going to be more than one Buddhist tradition, but it seems the more deeply one delves into Buddhism, one finds more and more layers, lamas and resources.
Maybe I’m too cynical, but I suspect that as excellent as Buddhism is, like Christianity, it has its share of charlatans and inflated egos, posing as saintly teachers of the Dharma. Unlike Christianity, however, which for most “westerners” is somewhat familiar territory, Buddhism presents the western seeker with some unfamiliar and challenging aspects right up front. It’s hard to know what’s appropriate, sound and worthwhile
The book stores contain shelves of publications by various Buddhist lamas, monks and writers. The Internet is now full of web sites devoted to one “master” or another.
For the “novice” like myself, this is daunting and more than a little discouraging.
I’d like to know how others have come to find a “path” that seems to be right for them.
I agree with you, it’s hard to know where to start.
I think the whole self-help “industry” is essentially based on good Buddhist ideals, just with all the religion and mysticism removed. It’s pretty obvious some of those folks are just out to sell books, yet that doesn’t necessarily make what they are saying wrong. There is more to Buddhism than feel-good-ness, and despite what the Dalai Lama may say, there’s more to it than just love and compassion as well. Those are important aspects, and are certainly attractive, but Buddhism can be complicated at times, as some topics here occasionally show.
In some cases it certainly appears that some of the lamas and rinpoches and so forth are involved in a sort of cult of personality, but it’s hard to say for sure, because if they are in fact enlightened, then they deserve a lot of respect. This level of respect is something that’s hard for westerners to accept. Especially with the importance of lineage in some traditions, it’s hard not to run into some ego somewhere along the line. And yet, if you take what they say, and, as the Buddha said, weigh it against what you know to be true, then you can’t go too far wrong.
How do you know which path to take? There’s no easy route to enlightenment; you just have to put in a lot of time doing research. If you have more than one church or temple in your area, then visit them all; “shopping around” isn’t going to hurt anything, and you will learn quite a bit in the process. There are plenty of Internet resources too, and these can be very helpful (or maybe even MORE daunting) in making your decision. There are plenty of people out there who get ALL their Buddhism through the net, and there’s nothing wrong with that, although you’ll probably learn more, and enjoy the social aspects more, with a “real” sangha.
I don’t think there are too many branches of Buddhism, and I don’t consider any of them perfectly right or wrong; they all teach essentially the same thing, only in different ways using different methods. The tricky part is finding one that matches your personality and way of looking at the universe.